The media in Asia and around the world has spent the past month whipping up a frenzy over the disappearance of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim hasn’t been seen in public since September 3rd except in an official video, in which he appeared to be limping. All of that hype has been building to today’s revelation: The “Dear Leader” missed a symbolically important national celebration, one he was expected to attend. The NYT reports:
Friday was the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. Since taking over the top leadership position following the death of his father, the longtime ruler Kim Jong-il, in late 2011, Mr. Kim had marked the beginning of this important national holiday by leading top military and party officials to pay a midnight visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang. By tradition, such a visit would have taken place at midnight Thursday.
But on Friday, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency did not list Mr. Kim among the top officials who had paid tribute at the gigantic Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the mummified bodies of Mr. Kim’s father and his grandfather, the founding president of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, lie in state. The mausoleum is among the most sacred places in the country, which is ruled with a personality cult surrounding the Kim family, and a visit there during a national holiday is an important leadership ritual.
This, of course, is fueling further media speculation that Kim is gravely ill, dead, or has had power wrested from him by disgruntled generals. There is no way to know what is going on within the the power structure of the “hermit kingdom”, but Kim Jong-Un’s deputies seem to be taking positive steps in his absence: impromptu high-level talks in Seoul and the possible end of the North Korean nuclear program.But there have also been signs pointing in the opposite direction. On October 7th, naval vessels from the two Koreas exchanged warning shots when a DPRK ship crossed a disputed sea border. And on October 10th, North Korean ground troops fired a machine gun across the border in retaliation for information leaflets critical of Pyongyang, which South Korean activists had dropped into their territory. South Korean border forces returned fire, but no one was hurt.Sparks are flying around Asia’s powder kegs, and no one is sleeping well.